There's No Place Like Home

Sunday, December 02, 2007

I am so very glad I no longer work at a certain radio station that I once did. The weather forecast is calling for "every possible type of winter weather" tonight and tomorrow.

I used to work at a radio station out near Cobleskill. It was really out in the wilds of New York, high atop a mountain. Driving up and down this mountain late at night (my shift was midnight to 6am before I was promoted to days) was horrific in this kind of "middle-ground" weather of snow, ice, snow, ice. I had nightmares for years after I stopped working there.

The road to the station was a narrow, sometimes unplowed, switchback mountain road. It was two miles all the way up to the station. Winters with heavy snow weren't too bad. The wind blew the snow in one- or two-feet high drifts, but it wasn't unnavigable. It was late autumn and early spring that were the worst.

Late autumn had weather like this: some snow, then freezing rain on top. Down in the valley, the precipitation might be rain, but going up the mountain it might be raining sheets of ice. Impossible to get through. But the show must go on.

I'll never forget the one Sunday I drove up. I was heading for the part of the road that has a very steep incline, the kind of road where you plant your foot on that gas pedal to give your car an extra boost of momentum. So I laid on the gas, pushing my car to go as fast as it could up the steep incline. Up, up, up, I went until, halfway up, my car started to slow down. A lot. Even though I had my foot on the gas pedal, I wasn't getting any traction. At the steepest part of the incline, my car sighed heavily and started to skid backwards. The road was coated with black ice!

I panicked and touched the brakes, and my car started to spin a little. I released the brakes, and instead applied the hand/emergency brake, hoping this could control my speed down the hill (it was a very steep incline going backwards). The hand brake didn't even slow the car down. For a fleeting moment I wondered if I could thrash the car around so I could turn and go forward down the incline. At least then I could see where I was headed. But I didn't think I could turn around that fast.

Down, down, I went-- coasting backwards and I had no idea where I was going. Everything moved in slow motion-- it was a very weird experience.

Close to the bottom of the incline, the car suddenly veered to the right and the back end solidly hit a snowbank on the side of the road. The car had stopped, finally. I very timidly crawled out of the car to survey the damage. The car was not damaged, but it's back end was resting down in a ditch into a snowbank, and the front wheels were dangling slightly over the edge. There was no way I was going anywhere with the car. I had to hike the rest of the way up the mountain to the station. It was quite an experience.

Another time, in very early spring, a greenish dense fog had coated the area. Of course I had to go to work that night. Street lights illuminated the early portion of the road as I chugged up the first few yards of the hill, but beyond that it was pitch black. As I drove up the mountain, the fog dissipated and I happily believed I had made it through the worst!

I must have passed only through the "eye of the storm" because as I continued, the fog returned even more severely than before. Not only was visibility down to zero, I'd say it was negative five. I was terrified. I could see nothing but the greeny-thick fog shining all around me due to my bright car headlights. I could see nothing. I had to stop. But I couldn't just sit there in the middle of the road! What if another car-- or truck-- would come? How far could I move over before my car ran off the shoulder of the road and tumbled into the ditch?

Then it struck me. How do bats get around? I switched off my headlights and put on my orange flashers. I rolled down my windows and drove slowly (about 1 or 2 mph). I was using my own "sonar" by listening to the sound of my car's engine bounce off the mountain "walls"--those high banks of soil along the sides of the road. With careful listening, I could tell when I was getting too close to the side of the road. I managed to stay on the road the entire time. It took me a very long time to get to work, but I made it safe and sound. It was a fearsome experience.

I was only 19, 20 years old-- and a new driver at that-- but these experiences taught me how to be a winter driver. I've learned how to manage a car on ice, how to drive through heavy drifts of snow (never accelerate or brake when hitting a drift-- stay constant), and how to get a car out of a rut. I also learned that you should always keep a blanket and a pair of good boots in the trunk!

Yes sir, I am glad I don't work at that radio station anymore. I'm glad I don't have to go out tonight! There's no place like home during an Upstate NY winter.

3 remarks
Scribbit said...

I know what you mean, living here teaches you to learn snow and ice driving. My daughter gets her driver's permit this January . . .

11:55 PM  
threecollie said...

Oh, my word! I would have been terrified! I took my son out for a taste of winter driving yesterday and he didn't like it much. He lasted as far as Johnstown and then made me take over.

5:53 AM  
Mrs Mecomber said...

Ah, seems we all have children reaching driving age... my sympathies to us all... lol.

12:41 PM  

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